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Another chance, another disappointment for Louisiana?

Budgetary estimates continue to trend in positive directions, meaning Louisiana has yet another lucky chance to make up for prior mistakes in its fiscal management. But because those who have made those mistakes continue to hold power in the state and given the timing, whether this actually happens remains questionable.

Early indications predict a budgetary surplus of around a half billion dollars. Despite the 2005 hurricane disasters, Louisiana has gotten lucky because the price of oil has remained high and construction workers (among others) have taken a disproportionate part of their share of federal rebuilding dollars and gambled it away (which I guess why many are construction workers). The state takes a cut of both, and added to all of the temporary recovery funding flowing in, has created this desirable situation.

The problem is, the state has been down this road before with its Democrat Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Democrat-controlled Legislature. After the disasters when prudence dictated cuts, they responded but missed the opportunity to cut permanently the truly unnecessary, low-priority and/or inefficiently done items, settling on blanket cuts (as well as using chicanery in computing what could be spent). Then much of that got restored instead of allocating it to reduce long-term, growing, unresolved and underappreciated problem areas such as underfunded pension plans and road needs.

Unfortunately, the Blanco administration talked about but didn’t deliver optimal use of “extra” funds. The Legislature was little better: it brushed aside efforts to tackle the $12 billion-plus pension deficit, didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to reduce the road backlog, and was unable to use some of the money to offset insurance hikes that every citizen, directly or indirectly, will have to pay as a result of the disasters. The same forces that caused no positive change continue in power into 2007.

Worse, that is an election year. Blanco well may succumb to her liberal instincts and spend money blindly to pay off constituencies that will get her votes but to the detriment of the entire state. With Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell almost sure to enter the race against her thus pressuring her from the left, the temptation will be greater to for her to co-opt that agenda and thereby behave irresponsibly. Democrats in the Legislature, whether running for their same jobs or others in the other chamber, likely will do the same.

The refrain is old: Louisiana looks to have yet another chance to progress and start pulling itself out of the last-place ranking morass its liberal/populist history has produced. Let’s hope the usual result, missing that chance, won’t happen again.

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